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Research: Why Virtual Reality is not (yet) a mass medium

By 17. January 2020 January 19th, 2020 No Comments

Research: Why Virtual Reality is not (yet) a mass medium

Virtual Reality Devices are affordable, quite mature and have been on the market for several years. The diffusion rates of ~1% are disappointing. Dr. Marc Herz from the strategy consultancy Kleinundpläcking discusses the results of a scientific study and shows the To Dos for the industry.

Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) – or in short, all forms of Extended Reality (XR) have been traded for several years as ‘The Next Big Thing’.  Market forecasts are overturning, large corporations are investing enormous sums and even science has recognized the topic as an essential area for itself in recent years. According to Reuters, the Global Virtual Reality Market was valued at USD 3.13 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach USD 49.7 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 58.54% over the forecast period (2018-2023).

Nevertheless, adoption rates remain subdued, especially in German-speaking countries. According to our research, only about 10% of all consumers have already gained first-hand experience with virtual reality. But why is that so? Why are people so skeptical about virtual reality and what are the barriers to keeping adaptation so low?

Results of the Virtual Reality Research Study

Based on our research, we can only draw a few conclusions:

(1) Low familiarity with virtual reality

The fact that around 90% of respondents have never tried VR is the first core finding. Manufacturers need to invest more in their marketing strategies and get people to test VR first. Several studies showed positive correlations between experience and evaluation (Attention: correlation does not imply causality).


In conversations with managers we often hear about problems that motivate people to try VR at all. Managers invest in unusual VR devices and apps, test them in advance and implement them in their stores, but receive little or no attention. The general lack of familiarity with the technology as well as the lack of knowledge about the advantages of virtual reality – compared to other media – are one of the main reasons for this barrier.

have never heard of VR

have heard about VR, but do not have experience

have experience with VR, do do not own a device

own a VR device

More invormation about our research

The study was conducted in 2017. A total of 611 German test persons were interviewed. These were recruited via a commercial market research panel. The results were published in the scientific journal “Technological Forecasting and Social Change”.


Herz, M., & Rauschnabel, P. A. (2019). Understanding the diffusion of virtual reality glasses: The role of media, fashion and technology. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 138, 228-242.
Here you can find another publication of this data (in German only).

(2) Low “Fashnology”: Poor design and not comfortable

VR have a reputation of looking ‘bad’ and consumers have become accustomed to running around socially rather unacceptable with a VR device. It is assumed that VR devices are heavy and uncomfortable. And to be honest, many of the current devices actually look questionable and don’t have a high wearing comfort.


While VR companies have made enormous progress in improving the functionality of VR (e.g. hand tracking, resolution, etc.), the user aspect – usability – has largely not been sufficiently considered.

As an anecdotal side-note: During a keynote speech on AR in Marketing as part of the New Realities conference in Berlin, a VR manager interrupted the presentation – somehow provocatively – why the speaker was not talking about VR. In his words VR would be much more sustainable and almost a mass media technology. The speaker replied with a question: “Which one of you (remember: everyone was in the XR community) has ever even been wearing a VR device for more than 20 minutes?” Maybe four or five (of about 150) people raised their hands. After presenting some representative user numbers, he said that if even the XR industry doesn’t want to use them more than for a quick test, who will?

In the coming years, the industry will therefore have to pay increasing attention to increasing wearing comfort, but also to design and fashion aspects. Usability + Fashnology is the motto.

(3) The VR content itself – and the use cases

What added value does VR content really provide the user? Of course, consumers can evaluate content directly after trying it out, but the basic ex-ante expectations of the content are crucial for ex-post satisfaction.


Our research shows that one of the most important drivers for users is the complete virtual experience – being another person (virtual embodiment) in another place (virtual presence).


In addition to the first challenge of attracting the attention of consumers and motivating them to try out the technology (see also point 1), it is therefore necessary to create a complete experience in order to satisfy and keep users.

(4) Real benefit instead of just short-term entertainment

VR is often (still) associated with funny games, movies and other hedonic elements. And yes, consumers appreciate this hedonistic entertainment factor. But often it is the entertaining and short-term experience that can lose its appeal even after a short time.


However, VR has a much greater potential. For example, VR can (and will) be used in education, training, for instructions, for data analysis and visualization, for military, but also medical purposes. VR can therefore contribute to an efficient life and make processes faster, better and more efficient.


In order to take place more centrally in people’s lives and everyday life, the real benefit must be brought more to the fore alongside the hedonistic entertainment factor.

(5) Related VR risk factors

In our study, we were able to identify a number of risks that consumers associate with the use of virtual reality technology.

On the one hand, consumers associate certain health risks with VR technology, e.g. the negative effect of its use on the eyes. The study also shows that the fear of privacy risks, e.g. whether the technology or other people can obtain information about me as a user, plays an essential role in the acceptance of VR technology.

If one follows the literature, fears of direct physical risks, such as the fear of running into a wall due to a lack of vision and injuring oneself in the process, can also exist.

In addition, psychological risks are sometimes associated with virtual reality technology. For example, there is a perceived uncertainty as to whether the use of VR technology and acting in a virtual, ‘fake’ world can have long-term negative effects on the psyche.

Whether these fears are justified or not – in order to create a higher acceptance of the technology, it is necessary to educate people to take active action against such barriers.

To Dos for the VR Industry

What can industry and management do? Based on the described study and other research we have conducted, we have identified a number of possible ToDos to overcome the “adoption dilemma”.

  1. Management should focus on the initial contact between customer and VR in order to overcome existing reservations and barriers.
  2. In the coming years, the comfort and design of the devices must increasingly be the focus of development.
  3. Relevant and complete experience content must be created that allows the user to be simultaneously another person in another place.
  4. The hedonistic entertainment factor in VR usage must be enriched by real, functional usage aspects.
  5. Risks in VR use must be clearly, authentically and transparently explained without embellishing facts.

Image Credit:Eugene Capon @ Pexels

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